The UK is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to launch a ‘global pandemic radar’ to identify emerging COVID-19 variants and track new diseases around the world.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the plans on Friday (21 May), ahead of the Global Health Summit hosted by Italy and the European Union (EU).
The radar is expected to be fully up and running with a network of surveillance hubs before the end of 2021, with the aim of significantly improving global health security going into next year.
WHO will lead an implementation group, supported by global health charity the Wellcome Trust, to launch the new international partnership to identify, track and share data on new coronavirus variants and monitor vaccine resistance in populations.
WHY IT MATTERS
The pathogen surveillance network is intended to save lives and protect health systems by spotting diseases before they cause future pandemics and enabling the rapid development of vaccines, treatments and tests.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Johnson first called for a global network of disease surveillance centres as part of ‘Five point plan’ at the UN Security Council last September.
The UK commissioned a report from the Wellcome Trust, which was published on Friday, and has been working with WHO, other governments’ centres of disease control, NGOs and research organisations to take it forward as part of the G7 presidency.
Meanwhile, WHO recently opened a new global hub for pandemic and epidemic intelligence based in Berlin.
ON THE RECORD
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the vital need for a robust, modern system to keep the world ahead of emerging diseases through active monitoring at the community level, swift and accurate sequencing of new pathogens, and data-sharing across the globe.”
Wellcome Trust director, Dr Jeremy Farrar, said: “This pandemic has provided a stark wake-up call to the threat posed by a fast-moving infectious disease. We are long overdue the essential reinforcement of our local, national and international disease surveillance networks.
“We failed to address these gaps following other epidemics and we must act now before countries move on from this pandemic. This commitment from the UK, as president of the G7, will be hugely important in achieving these aims. There is no time to spare in making this aspiration a reality.”
Boris Johnson said: “Tackling COVID-19 globally and ensuring we are better prepared for future health threats is an absolute priority for the UK’s G7 presidency.
“The world must never be caught unawares again by a virus spreading among us unchecked. We need to build a system of disease surveillance fit for the 21st century, with real-time data sharing and rapid genomic sequencing and response.
“A global pandemic radar will ensure that we are vigilant to new variants and emerging pathogens, and can rapidly develop the vaccines and treatments needed to stop them in their tracks.”
Find out more about the European digital health strategy at the ‘From Pandemic to Infodemic, the Role of Effective Digital Public Health’ session at the HIMSS21 & Health 2.0 European Health Conference on 8 June, 2021.
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